By Murtland Haley
After some US$6M (G$1.3B) was wasted under the People’s Progressive Party Civic government on the eGovernment Fibre Optic Cable Project, the current administration is now forced to source its internet facilities from the
Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT).
This was disclosed yesterday by the Head of the National Data Management Authority (NDMA), Floyd Levi. This was during a mid-year press conference held by the Ministry of Public Telecommunications at Colgrain House, Camp Street.
The media was briefed on the status of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Hubs being established around Guyana. On this note, Levi was questioned if the supply of free internet to these communities would provide competition for internet providers GTT and Digicel Guyana.
However, Levi set the record straight and explained that the internet being provided to these communities is being bought from the sole authorised provider of internet in Guyana, GTT.
“Let me make that clear, we actually purchase the internet from GTT. The internet is purchased in a bulk fashion; we actually purchase a one gigabit per second connection from GTT.”
Levi said that the internet is being used by government offices during the normal working hours of 08:00 to 16:30. According to the official, when government closes its offices in the afternoon, the internet will become dormant, as it would not be in use.
Levi explained that the system is being encouraged in the targeted communities, so as to ensure optimum utilisation of the internet being purchased from GTT. Although this arrangement exists, a different system is used for ICT Hubs in hinterland communities. According to Levi, satellite-based systems have been set up to provide internet to these far-flung areas.
Meanwhile, Public Telecommunications Minister, Cathy Hughes said that her Ministry is advancing rapidly with its digital agenda and the services that are being provided to citizens.
“To date we have connected 24 government ministries and agencies onto the eGovernment Fibre Optic Network, 84 Secondary educational institutions, nine TVET (Technical, Vocational Educational and Training) institutions, five regional development offices, 21 Tertiary Educational and Skills Training Institutions and 24 other skills training institutions.”
According to Hughes, over the last six months, her Ministry through the eGovernment Unit has been focusing on providing fast, safe and secure internet access to government Ministries, agencies and citizens across Guyana.
She said that focus has been placed on connecting communities through the creation of ICT Hubs. Hughes informed that 55 such hubs have been identified and work has begun to install the routers and necessary hardware at these locations. Thirty of these hubs are currently under construction in regions two, three, four, five, six and nine.
In addition to promoting research and educational activities, part of the intention of this programme, according to the Minister, is to allow Guyanese the opportunity to develop online entrepreneurial activities in which they might be involved.
The key individual representing the Ministry in these communities is Mr Phillip Walcott, Director of Community Development and Social Management. According to Walcott, the identification of the communities in need of a hub is an involved process.
He said that consultation is done with the regional officials and the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs). Walcott said that the communities are categorised as poor, remote or hinterland.
“Once that community is identified, then we go in and we meet with the community officials; they elect their own persons to work with us and we work with them to establish the hub. That means we work with them to identify the building that the hub will be placed in, and we work with them to ensure the cubicles are set up, security is in place, electricity is provided and every other thing that is necessary to make that hub operational.”
Mr Levi added that the process has begun to extend the eGovernment network into the hinterland. He said that so far, seven locations in the hinterland have been connected with Satellite-based internet connections. These are the Iwokrama Research Centre, Annai, Karasabai, Paramakatoi, Sand Creek, St. Ignatius and Waramadong. He said that all of these locations have secondary schools, except Iwokrama, and that these schools have just been connected to the internet system.
When asked how soon the Ministry would be able to measure the effect these hubs will have on the lives of the residents, he said that attempts are currently being made to do just that.
He explained that impact is as a consequence of use.
“So having set up the Hub, one of the things that we are promoting with the Management Committee is use. We have to actively promote that Hub to the community. There are some challenges. We are working to overcome such built-in resistance and create use.”
Walcott said that once ‘use’ has been created, then the impact will be created. He said that presently, the assessment is about use.
“We are constantly measuring how many people are using the Hubs and each Committee is given a target; basically to increase use by so much over such a time, and that is what we are measuring. We want to ensure that we are not putting down white elephants.”
During the consideration of the 2017 Budget estimates, Minister Hughes had explained that $314M would be spent on the eGovernment project. Bandwidth is being bought from GTT at a cost of US$145 per megabyte, although the government is paying in total for one gigabyte per second.
Initially, the project failed under the PPP/C due to ineffective planning, management and inadequate oversight. These were the reasons given by hired Chartered Accountants Ram and McRae, who conducted a forensic audit into the project.
The team that was managing the project were Project Manager Alexei Ramotar, son of former President Donald Ramotar; Deputy Project Manager Anil Singh and Technical Advisor, the late Walter Willis.
Also, it was reported that adequate supervision was not conducted and acts of negligence resulted in damage to fibre optic cables and equipment which were expensive to replace, forcing government to now buy internet from GTT.
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